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The Fall to Earth

Joel Drake Johnson's play starts out as a moving study of grief before running out of imagination.

By New York City
Deborah Hedwall and Jolie Curtsinger
in The Fall to Earth
(© John Quilty)
Deborah Hedwall and Jolie Curtsinger
in The Fall to Earth
(© John Quilty)
Joel Drake Johnson's play The Fall to Earth, now at59E59 Theaters under the direction of Joe Brancato, starts out as a delicate and moving study in grief. Fay (Deborah Hedwall) and her daughter Rachel (Jolie Curtsinger, giving an excellent, fully dimensional performance) arrive in a small town to collect the body of their son and brother Kenny, who has died under mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, the play eventually runs out of imagination.

Fay is clearly someone who has always been a bit unhinged, and her mannerisms suggest a woman barely keeping it together. It's a tough role to play sympathetically, and Hedwall does well with it, even if her portrayal lacks a profounder depth that would really make the character's suffering hit home. Too often, Hedwall tends to play the character's goofiness rather than embody it.

Nonetheless, she has some stirring moments, as when a barely perceptible knock from an adjoining motel room stops Fay in her tracks. You can feel the crazy hope well up inside her that, somehow, Kenny is about to walk through the door.

And in a monologue in the first scene, which gives the play its title, Fay movingly imagines how it would have been to die in a plane crash on their way to this sad reunion. "I wonder," she says, "if you can cling to one another as you get thrown through the air and fall down to earth."

Amelia Campbell, who plays the police officer and coroner who found Kenny's body, creates a touching character who turns out to have a screw or two loose herself. At first, it's a little aggravating to watch another female authority figure who, if you scratch the surface, turns out to be over-emotional and unmoored. But her character plays an important role in filling out Johnson's theme, which ends up being more than just the nature of grief.

While some of the revelations at the end of the play venture too far into spoon-fed exposition, the work does ultimately paint an impactful portrait of the consequences of living in a culture of silence and lies.


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